Church leaders condemn UK’s ‘horrifying’ treatment of asylum seekers

By staff writers
April 15, 2007

Anglican, Methodist and Reformed church leaders in the UK have raised urgent concerns about the impact on asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants of “rushed plans” to re-organise the Home Office.

Four Church of England bishops, from across the theological spectrum, the general secretary of the United Reformed Church and a former president of the Methodist Conference have made their views plain in a letter to the Times newspaper, published on Saturday (14 April) which draws attention to the UK’s “draconian immigration policy”.

The church leaders warn that the proposed scheme to split the Home Office, championed by bullish Home Secretary John Reid, would increase the risk of bad decisions over refugee applications.

Backing similar claims made by human rights campaigners from both religious and non-religious backgrounds, they point to the much-criticised decision to deport a single woman to Iran, “although it has been demonstrated that to send such a person back to Iran is unsafe”.

The letter makes the point that the centenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade is an opportune moment to reflect on Britain’s treatment of vulnerable and oppressed people today, and the “horrifying infringements of [rights]… happening on our doorstep.”

The signatories are: the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester; The Rt Rev N. T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham; the Rt Rev Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford; the Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester and Bishop to HM Prisons; the Rev Dr John Vincent, leader of the Ashram Community and ex-president of the Methodist Conference; and the Rev David Cornick, general secretary of the United Reformed Church.

The full letter reads as follows:

"As Church leaders, we are profoundly concerned about the increasing risk to our nation’s public and political life of the inhumane and imperfectly processed decisions that are likely to result from the rushed reorganisation of the Home Office. We fear that yet more upheaval in the Home Office may result in greater casualties among those suffering from the brutalities of the Government’s increasingly draconian immigration policy.

"On March 24 there was an abortive attempt by the Home Office to deport a single woman to Iran, although it has been demonstrated that to send such a person back to Iran is unsafe. The scars on her face and body bear testimony to a suicide attempt after violence against her. Her disfigurement alone would call for compassion and humanity. Yet she was detained with a view to deportation.

"On March 24 we celebrated the Act to abolish the slave trade; we pledged ourselves to act in the cause of justice and humanity in today’s world. Can we ignore the horrifying infringements of these that are happening on our doorstep?"

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